Nuisance calls: still a nuisance

July 25th, 2014 4 Comments By Ian Wade

rotary cell phone 300x197 Nuisance calls: still a nuisanceThe Telephone Preference Service is bloody useless, say Ofcom.

The TPS runs a register designed to reduce any unsolicited sales calls. Firms can be fined for ignoring the list.

According to the findings of the research, while the TPS is “highly effective” at stopping calls to consumers registered on TPS by legitimate telemarketing companies,  TPS-registered consumers still receive on average 2.5 nuisance calls per month.

It transpires that only a third of “nuisance” calls are blocked by the service, which allows individuals to opt-out of marketing calls, research has found.

However some rogue companies are flouting the rules, according to regulators. And us lot unwittingly give consent for calls by ticking a box on devious online sales forms.

The research, commissioned by Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s Office, found that registering with the TPS blocked 35% of all nuisance calls.

If you’re an individual, registration on the TPS is free and takes 28 days to become effective.

It is a legal requirement that all organisations – including charities, voluntary organisations and political parties – do not make such calls to numbers registered on the TPS unless they have the individual’s consent to do so.

There are plans to increase the level of fines levied on firms that make nuisance calls, and these are due in October.

Fines of up to 20% of annual turnover could be handed down to firms using information gathered by unlawful unsolicited calls and texts. That’ll learn ‘em.

Let’s see what the swarthly named Claudio Pollack from Ofcom has to say: “We understand how frustrating it is to still receive some unsolicited sales calls despite being TPS-registered,”

“That is why we welcome tough enforcement action from the ICO against rogue companies who breach the rules.”

Currently, the ICO must demonstrate “significant damage or distress” caused to individuals by nuisance calls or spam texts in order to issue monetary penalties of up to £500,000.

Christ, let’s hope no mobile company has pissed off its users by spamming them willy nilly then. Oh.

Ofcom: Brits want a dirty internet

July 23rd, 2014 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

porn Ofcom: Brits want a dirty internetThe mucky-minded of Britain were asked if they wanted the government to introduce porn filters to the internet. An overwhelming majority laughed in the face of such an idea, with a take-up for Sky, BT and Virgin Media all below 10%.

Ofcom have done a report on such a thing, and found that most people chose not to block porn from their internet connections, telling ISPs to stick their adult content filters up their holes. Yeah. Like that. Oh yeah. Einfach so, mein kleines Kaninchen.

This is bad news for the Govt because they shouted loudly about all this and made BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media all contact their customers to force them to turn the modesty filters on or off. It is a weird notion. Imagine a Government official popping their head around your door and saying “watching any dirty films any time soon?”

You’d throw a shoe at them.

Ofcom found that 5% of new BT customers turned the filters on, with 8% of Sky customers and a measly 4% of Virgin Media users. The fusty sorts at TalkTalk already have the Homesafe parental controls system. 36% of those guys wanted to get it turned on. Oooh yeah.

Now, all ISPs are required to ‘pre-tick’ the box that sees adult content filters switched to ‘on’, which means new customers have to actively say they want it switched off during the installation process.

Naturally, the whole thing has already been a farce, with non-bongo sites being blocked by these clunky modesty wrappers. People found that they were denied access to sites which offer help about domestic violence and sexual health.

Either way, it seems like Britain is all for a dirtier internet, which is to be applauded. So the chastity belt wearing simpletons at Westminster.

private 300x199 How your banking habits and other personal data are affecting your insurance premiums...We’d all like an extra 20% discount on our car insurance, right? Well it seems that some insurers are offering up to a fifth off car insurance premiums for ‘prudent’ people.

Some insurance firms claim that they have found a strong link between people who are prudent with their spending and those less likely to take risks while driving. If you’re careful with your money, you’ll be careful on the road. This means that Lloyds insurance arm Scottish Widows is apparently offering up to 20% off to certain customers who, for example, stay within their overdraft limits, or never need an overdraft, or who never miss a credit card payment.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that renewing car insurance becomes a more labour-intensive process, requiring drivers to detail their financial histories in order to try and get a discount. Instead, this is just part of the ‘big data revolution’ which sees businesses using consumers’ personal information in new and exciting ways. And Scottish Widows aren’t alone.

We’ve known for years that Tesco monitors the shopping habits of Clubcard holders, and Tesco insurance reportedly offers discounts of up to 40% on home and car insurance to those whose shopping habits indicate they would be a careful driver. However, they are not forthcoming on which products are so indicative. Aviva changes house insurance premiums depending on the exact location of properties on a street.

But while no one is going to be miffed at being offered an un-requested 20% discount, as with everything else in life, the fear is that this is, in fact, a double edged sword. While those with ‘good’ financial habits are offered money off, are those struggling to make ends meet going to be penalised even further by higher premiums? Apparently not.

A spokesman for Scottish Widows told the Telegraph that “this use of the data we hold is allowing us to offer discounts on motor insurance to customers who tend to show care in areas like personal finances. But we will not be using this information to increase premiums.” Sounds pretty categoric. For now anyway.

However, privacy groups remain unconvinced, and consider this alternate use of data to be a breach of trust by holders of super-sensitive data.

Emma Carr, acting director of Big Brother Watch, said: “Despite this being within the law, the way many companies go about doing this is underhand and goes far beyond what customers would expect them to do with their data.”  She called on insurers to give customers the option of explicitly opting-in to the use of big data rather than just allowing them to opt out, if consumers are even aware of how businesses are using their data.

So what do you think? Is it OK so long as it only confers positive benefits, or will the sharp side of the deal inevitably turn up before long?

david cameron government Hello, emergency laws to monitor your phones and internet useEmergency laws are being brought in next week which will force phone and internet companies to hold records of customers’ calls, texts and visits to websites.

Sounds dodgy doesn’t it? How can a government do something like that? Well, Cameron & Co. have wheeled out the usual excuse of terrorism. See, if the government can snoop on everyone, that’ll stop someone from listening to God and blowing themselves up.

Obviously.

According to Cameron, these fast-tracked measures are absolutely necessary to defend our national security against the threat from Iraq and Syria. If we don’t, the consequences are “grave.” This move is a response to a ruling by the European Court of Justice which struck down regulations that allowed communications companies from storing data for police use for a year. Downing Street reckons that we’re all doomed if phone and internet companies start deleting these records.

“It is the first duty of government to protect our national security and to act quickly when that security is compromised,” David Cameron said. “As events in Iraq and Syria demonstrate, now is not the time to be scaling back on our ability to keep our people safe. The ability to access information about communications and intercept the communications of dangerous individuals is essential to fight the threat from criminals and terrorists targeting the UK. No government introduces fast track legislation lightly. But the consequences of not acting are grave.”

“I want to be very clear that we are not introducing new powers or capabilities – that is not for this Parliament. This is about restoring two vital measures ensuring that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies maintain the right tools to keep us all safe.”

Nick Clegg, a man hired to wander around Whitehall to say ‘does anything need doing? No? Okay. Fancy a pint after? You’re busy? Never mind then’, said these emergency laws “will not be used as an excuse for more powers, or for a ‘snooper’s charter’.”

“Liberty and security must go hand in hand. We can’t enjoy our freedom if we’re unable to keep ourselves safe.”

Tom Watson, meanwhile, isn’t impressed and said on the radio this morning that this is a “stitch up” that denies MPs the chance to be able to scrutinise the legislation: ”This is a secret deal between party leaders. There hasn’t been a bill published, we find out this morning when Parliament is on a one-line whip and MPs are in their constituencies that next week they will railroad through emergency legislation.”

“If you are an MP, you probably shouldn’t bother turning up for work next week because what you think doesn’t really matter. They are ramping up the rhetoric on it but no one in civic society has a chance to form a view on this or lobby their MP or talk to them about it. I understand that Labour’s shadow cabinet is seeing it this morning. They’ve not had a chance to think about it yet.”

Cue: If you’re not doing anything wrong, it doesn’t matter arguments.

facebook mobile 300x200 Regulator probes into Facebook for emotion experimentFacebook – yes, it is still going – have been playing with people’s emotions which is very sinister, even though the company themselves are playing it down by shrugging and goofily saying it didn’t really work and, pschaw! don’t you worry about it!

However, people are worried about it and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is going to investigate. They want to know whether or not Facebook Inc broke data protection laws when they allowed researchers to do a psychological experiment on users of the social network.

Now, Facebook are taking it a little more seriously.

“It’s clear that people were upset by this study and we take responsibility for it. We want to do better in the future and are improving our process based on this feedback. The study was done with appropriate protections for people’s information and we are happy to answer any questions regulators may have,” a Facebook spokesman said.

Here’s the kicker though.

The ICO can levy fines for up to £500,000. Facebook have that kind of money down the back of their sofa, so they’ll probably say sorry, pay the fine and then conduct some more experiments because they’re bored.

Meanwhile, fans of Edward Snowden will be weighing up whether to run around, wailing hysterically about how the baddies are coming to get us or to tweet “Oh, you don’t say?!” sarcastically to their 103 followers.

What has this whole debacle taught us? That everyone, regardless of viewpoint, is annoying.

Facebook have been toying with your emotions

June 30th, 2014 5 Comments By Mof Gimmers

Bitterwallet Facebook censorship Facebook have been toying with your emotionsEveryone knows that Facebook are a company that indulge in dark behaviour, but their latest stunt will have a number of people more than worried.

They’ve been trying to control people’s emotions.

Now, of course, there’ll be swathes of people who will sniff at the whole idea, saying that no-one should be gullible enough to have their feelings messed with by a corporation, however those people are probably feeling smug because Facebook got in their brain and told them to do so.

Basically, what happened is that Facebook did a psychology experiment on around 700,000 users without asking. They manipulated news feeds in a bid to control which emotional expressions members were exposed to.

Why? Well, it was done in collaboration with two US universities to see if “exposure to emotions led people to change their own posting behaviours”.

Facebook said there was “no unnecessary collection of people’s data” and that “none of the data used was associated with a specific person’s Facebook account,” like that’s the thing anyone is concerned about. This isn’t a personal data issue – it’s a Controlling People’s Minds Like Some Bleak Sci-Fi Movie issue. It is more of an issue that a big company doesn’t fully understand ethics, consent and power on its platform.

Cornell University and the University of California at San Francisco were also in cahoots on this experiment.

Labour MP Jim Sheridan wasn’t happy: ”This is extraordinarily powerful stuff and if there is not already legislation on this, then there should be to protect people. They are manipulating material from people’s personal lives and I am worried about the ability of Facebook and others to manipulate people’s thoughts in politics or other areas.”

Yeah. That’s why everyone hates Ed Miliband.

He continued: “If people are being thought-controlled in this kind of way there needs to be protection and they at least need to know about it.”

Adam Kramer of Facebook, who co-authored the report on the research, said: “We felt that it was important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out. At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends’ negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook.”

However, he admitted that the firm did not “clearly state our motivations in the paper” and that ”I can understand why some people have concerns about it, and my co-authors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused.”

telephone 224x300 Cold callers selling device to prevent cold callers?Cold callers are a nuisance.  No-one likes them, they always call at really inconvenient or intrusive times and you never want what they’re selling anyway. Unless, of course, they are selling a device for your phone that would prevent cold calls…

Unfortunately this is not April 1st and it seems there is a company out there doing just that, unaware or unbothered by the thick stench of irony. And worse, it seems people are falling for the ploy.

Helpful sorts at Telecom Protection Service Limited, which could, perhaps, accidentally be abbreviated to TPS, even though the company has no association with the Telephone Preference Service, will gladly call you up and supply you with a ‘Call Blocker Pro’ that would “virtually eliminate annoying calls” for the measly sum of just £79.99. All you need to do is give them your debit card details.

This is Money contacted Giles Ward-Best, who runs Telecom Protection Service Limited, on behalf of one of their hapless ‘readers’ who fell for this ploy. He insisted that the company’s sales people are told not to use the initials TPS ‘to avoid confusion with other services’. Yeah, right. It also seems that the main point of the Call Blocker Pro is to block withheld numbers. Which, if they belong to annoying cold callers like the ones at TPS Limited, shouldn’t be calling you anyway if you have registered with the (real) TPS.

John Mitchison of the genuine  Telephone Preference Service told This is Money: “We are seeing more and more companies like this, and more and more using the TPS acronym. The genuine TPS is free to consumers and there is never any reason for us to call anybody. We are not getting into the business of selling these call blockers.”

You can ring the real TPS on 0845 070 0707- although this is an 0845 number, the call will still (probably) cost less than £79.99 or you can register online for completely free.

Vodafone blabs on government spies

June 6th, 2014 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

spy vs spy tofu prv 2 Vodafone blabs on government spiesVodafone who, in the past, have been big brown-nosers to whichever government asks them for a favour (see their part in the riots in Egypt for more) have started blabbing.

They have revealed that governments around the world are using secret wires to listen-in on phone conversations over their networks.

In the 29 countries where Vodafone operate, governments are using wires connected directly (and permanently) to its network so they can spy on people in real-time, while also tracking the location of individuals. Basically, what Vodafone have said, is that some countries don’t have to make an interception request to spy on people.

This news was revealed ahead of Vodafone publishing a Law Enforcement Disclosure Report.

In a number of countries where Vodafone do their business, the law says that mobile operators have to install direct-access wires and if they don’t, the law are allowed to install them.

It seems that this wouldn’t be legal in the UK (as spies need warrants), however, the law does “allow indiscriminate collection of information on an unidentified number of targets”.

The marvellously named Stephen Deadman from Vodafone said: “We need to debate how we are balancing the needs of law enforcement with the fundamental rights and freedoms of the citizens. The ideal is we get a much more informed debate going, and we do all of that without putting our colleagues in danger.”

Vodafone are blowing the whistle on all this because they want to see an end to direct-access wires.

Uncharacteristically nice from Vodafone, right? Maybe they’re hoping all this will make everyone forget about their taxes that made everyone so angry?

 

google plus logo Want to be forgotten by Google? Heres how...Google lost their case in a European court, so now, we all have the right to be forgotten. Basically, if there’s stuff online that you think is irrelevant and you want it removed from Google’s search engine, you can now ask for that to happen.

Very nice.

How do you lose the pointless load? Well, Google have issued a form where you can make your ‘right to be forgotten’ requests online.

The form asks for yours details, the links to the ‘outdated information’, and asks for an explanation of why they should be removed. You’ll also have to provide a scan of your photo ID, so Google know it is you asking, rather than some fraud horsing around or impersonating you.

Google acknowledge that this system might not be perfect as this is their ‘first try’ and they will be “working with data protection authorities” to develop it in the future.

The company haven’t said how long it will take them to action your request:  ”We will assess each individual request and attempt to balance the privacy rights of the individual with the public’s right to know and distribute information. When evaluating your request, we will look at whether the results include outdated information about you, as well as whether there’s a public interest in the information—for example, information about financial scams, professional malpractice, criminal convictions, or public conduct of government officials.”

If you want to see the form, click here.

Microsoft shoo off FBI over Office 365 data

May 23rd, 2014 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

spy title cropped Microsoft shoo off FBI over Office 365 dataThe FBI, as you know, like knowing people’s business. They asked Microsoft for a load of information and data from their Office 365 subscribers.

Microsoft told them to sling it.

Court documents show that the FBI sent Microsoft a confidential letter last year, known as a National Security Letter and it demanded that ”several categories of information” relating to an unnamed enterprise customer should be delivered to them.

Microsoft’s general counsel Brad Smith said: “Last December I announced that Microsoft was committed ‘to notifying business and government customers if we receive legal orders related to their data. Where a gag order attempts to prohibit us from doing this, we will challenge it in court’.”

“Accordingly, Microsoft challenged this particular order, having concluded the non-disclosure provision was “unlawful and violated [Microsoft's] constitutional right to free expression”.

Microsoft challenged and won. The FBI ‘withdrew’ their letter.

Of course, a lot of the tech companies are publishing details of government requests that are handed to them, thank to the leaks and such from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Smith added: “In those rare cases where we have received requests, we’ve succeeded in redirecting the government to obtain the information from the customer, or we have obtained permission from the customer to provide the data. We’re pleased with the outcome of this case, which validates our approach.”

The full FBI request is available to download here, if you like that sort of thing.

Google must remove your dodgy pasts

May 19th, 2014 No Comments By Ian Wade

google logo 300x200 Google must remove your dodgy pastsGoogle has been inundated with more than a thousand take-down demands over the last few days, after a European Court ruling last week.

Such stuff as attempted murder convictions, affairs, child abuse image collecting, and, well, anything you can imagine is the sort of thing people want to cover up.

Half the requests half come from the UK, from people who want love-child exposes written out of history, and – curiously – MPs who are seeking re-election. Businesses are also quite keen to remove links to forums where they’ve been kicked around by consumers.

Tax dodging is also a popular exploit that people seem keen to cover up too, although you get the impression that if this information was already in the “public” domain, then it will find some way of leaking out.

Following last weeks decision by the European Court of Justice, Google and their like may now face legal action if they refuse to remove information deemed inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant.

There are mixed feelings about this, with EU Commissioner Viviane Reding reckoning it was a victory for the protection of personal date, but old Wikipedia dude Jimmy Wales claims it is one of the most wide-sweeping censorship rulings he’d ever seen.

Still, at least we can wipe away our pasts as, for instance, bigamists, murderers and that week we went on a crack bender with some of the cast of that soap.

Taking screengrabs is going to become increasingly popular, eh?

HSBC gets into wi-fi

May 13th, 2014 2 Comments By Ian Wade

HSBC HSBC gets into wi fiHSBC has made wi-fi available in hundreds of its branches!

Sing hallelujah!

650 “hotspots” will help customers download and use the bank’s new app and start making payments by phone. Brilliant!

Of course, it’s not fully a new thing, as Barclays launched it 1600 branches last year, but apparently “more and more” HSBC customers were interested in banking on the move, and that internet banking will help them be more chill.

But also, the bank plans to demonstrate the new Paym service, which allows customers of most major banks to pay friends and businesses using just their mobile phone number.

However, there are worries that this may be another way in for cyber thieves to commit their cyber crime, and hack into the wi-fi and steal shit.

So HSBC have thought that through and reckon their service will be fine, depending on signal strength, and all is cool. The bank said that if the feedback is positive, it will roll out the service to more of its 1,132 branches.

This will be particularly handy if they end up trying to pull a fast one on you and you want to get online to check your rights and quickly draft up a complaint letter.

Bitterwallet Facebook censorship Facebook change privacy controls, but you shouldnt trust themAs anyone with half a brain knows, Facebook aren’t exactly bothered about their users’ personal privacy. Members of the site know this and that’s the trade-off for being able to perv on people’s photos or get weary at the xenophobes you went to school with. Revenue always beats rights.

At the F8 conference yesterday (very exciting, honest), Facebook tried to win some critics over by introducing anonymous app logins.

What exactly? Well, you’ll now be able to limit how much personal info you share with third-party mobile apps. You’ll be able to try these apps without logging in, which means you can see if you like them without giving developers access to your personal data. You’ll see the usual ‘log in with Facebook’ button, as well as ‘log in anonymously’.

Users will also get some control over what data a third-party app can look at, such as your email address, date of birth, who your Facebook friends are, your Likes and all that.

Facebook said: “We’ve heard from people that they are worried about sharing information with apps, and they want more control over their data. We are giving people more control over these experiences so they can be confident pressing the blue button.”

Naturally, even though you won’t be giving third parties your details, Facebook will still have them and use them to create revenue from advertisers, so this could well be a thoroughly pointless endeavour designed merely to placate.

In addition to that, whenever Facebook tinkers with privacy controls, it usually wipes the old ones, which means users’ settings are reverted wide open, so remember to fix that, if indeed, there’s any point in it. In a few months time, this conversation will inevitably happen all over again.

If you’re going to make a Twitter fail, you may as well make it spectacular, as US Airways recently found out. When faced with a complaint on Twitter, the airline’s social media team responded by directing the poor customer to view a pornographic image.

Yesterday it responded to a tweet from a young female user called “Alex” who said: “You ruined my spring break, I want some free stuff @USAirways H8 YOU”.

US Airways tweet Massive Twitter fail makes the world chuckle

The airline replied: “We don’t like to hear this, Alex. Please provide feedback to our Customer Relations team here,” followed by a link to a pornographic image of a woman performing a sex act with a model Boeing 777 (below). Reportedly, the aircraft’s insignia was obscured but at least there was some attempt at brand placement.

Many of US Airways’ 420,000 followers responded to the exchange to express a mixture of disgust, anger, surprise and amusement and it later emerged that the same link had been used in responses to other users as well. The airline has since apologised and said it was “investigating” the source of the tweets, which have since been removed. Many people have speculated that the image was posted as a cruel joke by departing member of US Airways’ dedicated social media team.

Still, they do say there is no such thing as bad publicity, and the tweets (and the accompanying image) became so popular in the Twitterverse  that it became the top trending topic in the US. The enthusiastic lady also ended up receiving more comments and retweets than the breaking news of the Pulitzer Prize award winners. Just shows how little effort is needed to get anywhere these days…

If you’d like to see the INCREDIBLY NSFW IMAGE, click here.

google plus logo Google: Contact lens cameras and still looking at your emailsGoogle, as we all know, aren’t too fussed about your privacy. When they’re not teaming up with governments, they’re scanning your correspondence so they can target adverts at you.

Personal privacy groups have long been unhappy with the internet giant and even Microsoft got in on the action, shouting “Don’t Get Scroogled by Gmail” when they were trying to convince everyone to use Outlook.

One court case against Google’s sniffing around our emails, District Judge Lucy H. Koh said that Google’s terms of service and privacy polices did not explicitly notify the plaintiffs “that Google would intercept users’ emails for the purposes of creating user profiles or providing targeted advertising.”

After that was said, Google spontaneously decided to update their terms of service, which came into play as of Monday, adding the provision that “Our automated systems analyse your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.”

Not only that, but it looks like they’ve got some more wearable tech in the pipeline which could well creep out the kind of people who think the sky is falling on their heads.

Basically, those worried about Google Glass taking photos without consent will love the news that Google now has a pending patent for a contact lens embedded with a camera. That’s Google Glass which you wouldn’t be able to see if someone was wearing it. That’s human beings, essentially walking around with a camera stuck on their eyeball. It’ll be ace of paparazzi photographers.

Google say that the development would be used or diabetics and blind people, which is a nice idea; but if Glass takes off, you can’t see a scenario where Google wouldn’t want to try and make a shedload of money from it with a general sale.